Lock latest example of tantalizing mystery of NFL QBs

Missouri’s Drew Lock heads to the NFL as the SEC’s No. 2 all-time passer

How much do you remember about Aaron Rodgers’ college football career? Or Jared Goff’s?

Maybe not much. Except to a relatively few diehard college fans on the West Coast, Rodgers and Goff spent Saturdays throwing touchdown passes in relative obscurity for a mediocre program at the University of California. They didn’t become household names until they reached the NFL.

This is the path for many NFL quarterbacks — the “who’s that again?” route to success on the world’s big stage. It’s a trail that Missouri’s Drew Lock hopes to travel in the months ahead.

Lock wrapped up his four-year career in Columbia with 12,193 passing yards, which is second in Southeastern Conference (SEC) history. He trails only Georgia’s Aaron Murray (13,166 yards from 2010-13) and tops such storied names as Georgia’s David Greene (11,528), Florida’s Chris Leak (11,213), and Tennessee’s Peyton Manning (11,201).

But Lock practiced his craft the past four years in virtual obscurity compared to the other guys on that list. Perhaps that’s because of Missouri’s lack of success, its distance from most of its SEC brethren and its relative newcomer status in the league.

His future is a tantalizing mystery — even to NFL officials.

“The top-rated senior passer in the 2019 class, Lock is a polarizing prospect in scouting circles,” wrote Dane Brugler of the The Athletic. Case in point: despite being the top-rated passer, Lock is ranked as the fourth-best QB prospect by Brugler, who puts Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Duke’s Daniel Jones and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray ahead of him.

Along with a “golden arm,” as Brugler writes, is inconsistent accuracy, touch and mechanics. But those question marks might not be enough to keep Lock out of the first round when the NFL Draft begins April 25 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Courtesy Missouri Athletics

In addition, Lock has the perfect build pro general managers are looking for, with his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame. He hopes to showcase his talents in front of hundreds of scouts and team officials at Mobile, Alabama, in the coming days, as he will participate in the Senior Bowl. The game is January 26 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. It will be televised at 12:30 p.m. CST on the NFL Network.

Several other quarterbacks are scheduled to participate at the Senior Bowl, too. Besides Lock and Jones, there’s West Virginia’s Will Grier, Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson, Penn State’s Trace McSorley, Washington State’s Gardner Minshew, Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham and Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson.

Maybe whatever team drafts Lock won’t win the press conference with its fans. But not all successful college quarterbacks were widely publicized. Besides Rodgers (Packers) and Goff (Rams), just look at other NFL starters like Wyoming’s Josh Allen (Bills), Fresno State’s Derek Carr (Raiders) and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs). Even the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, was unknown to many NFL fans when the Bears chose him.

“What the #$%?” screamed a Bears fan in a viral video ESPN published after Trubisky’s selection that night. Another Bears fan pleaded, “Oh, my God. No! Nooooo!” But this year, Trubisky passed for 3,223 yards and 24 touchdowns and led Chicago to the NFC Central title.

Could fans give Lock a similar reaction? Of course.

Lock was a four-star recruit out of high school, according to Rivals.com, and he picked Missouri over Ohio State, Michigan State and Tennessee. But he said he didn’t think his family would be happy if he went anywhere else. His dad, Andy, was a former Mizzou football player.

Missouri didn’t play any major national showdowns in Lock’s career, because its defense struggled to stay competitive. In Lock’s first two seasons, the Tigers finished 5-7 and 4-8, respectively. Fortunes changed for coach Barry Odom’s Tigers in 2017, however, as they improved to 8-4. Lock participated in his first bowl game, though a 33-16 loss to Texas in the Texas Bowl wasn’t memorable.

Courtesy Missouri Athletics

He considered turning pro after his junior season. He’d passed for 44 touchdowns and led a six-game winning streak that people close to Missouri’s program believe saved Odom’s job. But Odom let Lock know that the NFL Draft Advisory Committee wasn’t yet sold.

“The committee cited Lock’s just-average athleticism,” wrote Alex Schiffer of the Kansas City Star, “his struggles with intermediate throws, and his completion percentage as a few of the main reasons why he needed to return to school.”

He admitted it stung when he realized guys he’d gone to camps with as a prospect out of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, were turning pro without him. Guys like close friend Sam Darnold, USC’s quarterback, who left after his junior year and now starts for the New York Jets.

But he also knew every path is different. So, last fall he went back to Mizzou. Lock again led his team to a winning season. But despite an 8-5 mark, another bowl loss — this one a 38-33 defeat to Oklahoma State in the Liberty Bowl — sent Lock out with a whimper. After Lock and company failed to convert a fourth-and-one in the final minute, his amateur career ended with a soft thud.

Taken in its entirety, however, Lock had an amazing collegiate career. His school records are there to see. He’s second only to Chase Daniel in passing yards, touchdowns (99) and completions (883). Daniel’s numbers don’t count in SEC history, though, since Missouri was a Big 12 member during his tenure from 2005-08.

“He’s’ changed Mizzou football in a lot of ways, all positive,” Odom said after Lock’s finale in the Liberty Bowl. H&A

Steve Kirk

Steve Kirk

A sports writer and editor for 25-plus years, Steve’s career includes stints at The Birmingham News, Florida Times-Union, The (Columbia, S.C.) State and Birmingham Post-Herald. A native of Huntsville, Alabama, he lives in the Atlanta area.
Steve Kirk

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